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PDX Update

TRANSPORTATION

Bridge plan may advance

A proposal to keep the existing Interstate 5 Bridge and build a supplemental bridge is on track to be approved Monday by a panel that has been studying how to reduce congestion between Portland and Vancouver, Wash.

Still to be decided is how to divide a new transit line and motor vehicle traffic between the two bridges. If approved by the subcommittee of the Columbia River Crossing Task Force, the proposal will be forwarded to the full 39-member task force for inclusion in the next phase of the project, a Draft Environmental Impact Study.

The task force has agreed to request such a study of replacing the existing bridge with a single, larger span over the river.

The cost of replacing the I-5 bridge is estimated at up to $6 billion, including adding a transit line between the two cities and upgrading all freeway interchanges between Delta Park in Portland and State Route 500 in Vancouver.

The task force created the subcommittee after Metro, the regional government that must approve all major transportation projects in the Portland area, formally asked that a lower-cost option be studied.

The subcommittee will meet at 8 a.m. Monday at the former Hayden Island Yacht Club, 12050 N. Jantzen Drive. The full task force will meet at 4 p.m. Tuesday at the Washington Department of Transportation, 11018 N.E. 51st Circle, Vancouver.

Tram bills coming up

Now that the Portland Aerial Tram is up and running, the bill is about to come due.

Wednesday, the City Council is expected to approve the final assessments to be levied to members of a Local Improvement District in that area, a total of $37 million divvied up among about 341 lien holders.

The hearing will begin at 9:30 a.m. at Council Chambers in City Hall. It will represent the final opportunity for lien holders to challenge the amount of their assessment before the bills are mailed out.

It's too early to know whether the city was right when it predicted that the public would make up 15 percent of all tram riders, the number that was the basis for agreeing to pay 15 percent of the tram's construction and annual operating costs.

Only 8 percent of the riders in February, the second month the tram was open, paid the public fare of $4 per trip. But that figure may be unrealistically low because rides were free on Friday evenings and Saturdays.

According to tram operators, a total of 125,158 people made the trip between the South Waterfront and Oregon Health and Science University in February, nearly twice previous estimates. Total fare revenue also was higher than expected at $32,736, compared to projected revenues of $29,640.

SCHOOLS

District gets good news

Portland Public Schools received both a boost and some advice in its finance department this week.

The boost came when Moody's Investors Service - one of the widely used sources for credit ratings, research and risk analysis - upgraded the district's bond rating and creditworthiness to the upper tiers.

The group upgraded the district from a rating of A2 to A1 and also issued an implied general obligation bond rating of Aa3. This translates into reduced interest rates on any newly accrued bond debt, if it is pursued.

In a separate matter, the district's eight-member citizen budget advisory committee released its recommendations to the board, touching on many of the same points it made last year.

Among other things, it recommended that the district keep a minimum 5 percent general fund contingency level; called for the district and its union partners to 'aggressively make additional cost savings' in health and welfare benefits; called for the district's next performance audit to focus on how it could be more efficient and transparent, with better communication; and called for better tools to help the rest of the public become more involved in the budget process.

- Tribune staff